What is it? A stout, orange-brick pub with rooms in the tiny village of Armscote on the edge of the Cotswolds. Inside, it’s surprisingly contemporary, a shot of urban style mixed with sweet-as-pie country charm. There are black-and-white photographs on the walls and caramel-coloured leather armchairs (particularly useful after procuring a snifter from the ‘connoisseur’s cabinet’ of fine whiskies). The small bar segues into a cosy dining room, and there’s a decked terrace at the back that gets lively when the sun shines.
Behind the scenes The Duck opened last year after siblings Tania Fossey and Adrian Slater (of the family behind the Baylis & Harding beauty brand) had transformed what was a traditional pub into a smart restaurant with boutique-style rooms. The interiors were designed by Fossey, and she’s taken the duck theme and run with it (but not in a twee way); the framed multicoloured eggs are a quirky touch.
Sleep It’s the kind of place to kick off your walking boots after a day of rambling and pull on a fluffy robe for some downtime before a hearty dinner. The four comfortable bedrooms may have sloping ceilings, but they don’t feel cramped thanks to the cool design: light wooden floors, crisp white Frette linen, grey faux-fur throws and nifty details such as a compact, cream-leather vanity table and a little decanter of sherry. The bathrooms are sleek and well stocked with beauty products (as you’d expect, from Baylis & Harding). Each room is named after a species of duck: grand-sounding Buff Orpington is the leader of the flock, with a super-king-size bed and a loft-style double accessed by a ladder; the bathroom has a divine roll-top bath.
Eat This is serious cooking dressed down in pub-grub casual. Hot milk loaf with creamy butter is served while choosing from a menu that’s big on local produce: beef carpaccio in lemon dressing, and a colourful beetroot-and-horseradish salad, followed by hay-smoked venison with a lick-the-plate gravy, and pork loin with a celeriac-and-apple rosti. Puddings are incredible: a chocolate ‘whatchamacallit’ cake that implodes into a gooey mess when drenched in salted caramel sauce at the table; tangy rhubarb sorbet with duck-egg custard. It’s all you can do to waddle happily up to bed afterwards.
Who come here? The Duck is a hit with locals out for a Saturday night treat (there’s an overflow dining room that was packed the evening we visited). Overnighters include couples celebrating double-digit wedding anniversaries and families whose children write excited reports in the guest book about sleeping high up in the loft-style bed.
We like The jar of dog treats on the windowsill in the bar; the Hunter wellies to borrow for muddy walks; the help- yourself spa baskets filled with potions, lotions and GHD hair straighteners.
We don’t like There are no wardrobes, just a single rail on the wall, so you end up living out of your bag.
While you’re here Wander around the market town of Shipston-on-Stour and get lost in the labyrinthine London House Antiques. The Stour Galleryacross the road has modern ceramics and paintings by artists such as Simon Pooley, and a chatty owner, Sarah Stoten. Stock up on treats in nearby deli Taste of the Country, known for its window displays piled high with cakes. For a quintessential Cotswolds experience, head to the Disney-esque village of Chipping Campden.
Address: Ilmington Road, Armscote, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire
Telephone: +44 1608 682635
Price: Doubles from £110